Episode 83. An ADHD Refresh on the Art of Talking to Children



How can we raise kids that are independent, confident, kind, empathetic and happy? By talking to them. Sounds easy, right? 

According to Rebecca Rolland, it can be — as long as we use the right kind of talk. Rebecca is a speech pathologist and Harvard lecturer but it’s her role as a mother of two that led her to write The Art of Talking to Children. In her book, Rebecca introduces the concept of rich talk and explains how it can be used to build productive and meaningful conversations with the kids in your life.

Learn more about Rebecca

Twitter: @rolland_rg

Facebook: rebeccagrolland

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Lindsay Guentzel (00:01):

You’re listening to episode 83, An ADHD Refresh on the Art of Talking to Children. My name is Lindsay Guentzel, and every week on Refocused, we dive into the incredibly complex world of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, exploring the topics most important to our community by interviewing medical providers, mental health professionals, and ADHD experts on everything from ADHD and relationships, rejection sensitive dysphoria, object permanence, executive function. The list of topics, as you can imagine, is long, and is always growing. We also just talk to other neurodiverse folks who share what it is like living in a world not built for them. And of course all of that brings up lots of tips, and tricks, and workarounds that we can mix and match to fit our own lives, and needs. Whether you’ve been navigating ADHD your entire life or you’re just starting your journey, there’s something for everyone on Refocused. And I promise that while I take this very seriously, we also have a lot of fun because life is way better with a little laughter in it. So sit back, relax, or do whatever you need to do to get into listening mode because episode 83 An ADHD Refresh on the Art of Talking to Children gets started right now.


I can’t believe summer is here. I’m sure all of you feel this, and I’m guessing we feel this way every year. But for me, the warm weather, and the actual ability to move my body, I’m definitely not back to a hundred percent, but I’m averaging a good 65% in most days the last couple of weeks. And so, to be able to get outside, and have sunshine instead of just gray, all gray all day long, it has been so nice, and has been such a game changer for my mood. We’ve had a busy couple of months on the podcast. In May alone, we explored auditory processing disorder, and its connections to ADHD with audiologist Melissa Carp. That’s episode 78 that we released on May 2nd. On May 10th, I shared a bit more about my autoimmune disease journey, and how it’s been affecting my mental health, and the production of this podcast.


And then in episode 80, we jumped into neurodiversity and exercise. And if you’ve already listened to that chat with Occupational Therapist, Alli Cost, you know that the word I should have used there is movement. We followed up that chat about movement with a look at neurodiverse athletes, and what they need to thrive, and find their place in the world of organized sports, and activities with Michael Shipper in episode 82. And smack dab in between those two episodes about movement and sports, on May 18th, we threw in a look at the Adderall shortage with columnist, and fellow ADHDer, Michael A. Cohen, who shared parts of his own experience with not being able to fill his Adderall prescription in the Daily Beast article, the Adderall Shortage is the Mental Health Crisis No One is Talking About.


So, what’s on the calendar for Refocused coming up? We’ve got so much in the works, including a look at ADHD and the queer experience for Pride Month, conversations on ADHD’s lovely comorbidity buddies, anxiety, depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, plus episodes on cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive distortions, and time blindness. Plus, we’re starting to put together plans for Refocused Together 2023.


If you missed last year’s chaos, and are like, “I have no idea what Refocused Together is,” well, let me tell you. Because there is a whole arsenal of episodes waiting for you right now. The idea came to me last summer. We were out on the lake, and my brain was down an ADHD Awareness Month rabbit hole. It was our first as a podcast, and I wanted to do something big, something important. I remember turning to my boyfriend, and saying, “I know what we are going to do for ADHD Awareness Month this year.” And that was telling 31 stories in 31 days throughout the month of October, a different person’s ADHD experience to listen, and connect with every single day. And it was such a rip roaring success that we’re doing it again. Although, we’re making it easier on ourselves this year, and are starting way ahead of where we were last year. And I’m so excited because we’re truly taking what we learned last year, and just upping the ante this time around. I will never wish away summer, but I am so excited for October. And as I said, all of those episodes are available for you right now. You just have to go back to October, 2022, and start listening. So, that’s a look ahead at what you can expect coming up on Refocused.


On today’s episode, we’re revisiting a conversation I had in September with speech pathologist, writer, and Harvard lecturer, Rebecca Rolland, episode 19, actually. Remember how I mentioned a few weeks ago, I went back through our episode database, and was caught off guard by all of the amazing conversations I had early on that I had forgotten about? This episode is one that jumped out to me, and it’s the perfect time to be revisiting Rebecca’s work.


Rebecca is the author of The Art of Talking to Children. We originally shared this conversation as a part of our focus on Back to School, talking about the importance of inclusion, encouraging it, and making sure kids understand its importance, but also the idea of transitions, and how back to school means kids are going to be spending time with new adults, and that means learning new ways to communicate, and express themselves. Well, with summer here, your kids are going to be around the house a lot more, or if you’re like me, and you don’t have kids, you might find yourself at more events with kids like family reunions or weekends at the cabin. And like most conversations we have on Refocused, there’s so much that Rebecca shares about how we communicate that can be applied to our own lives, whether or not there’s kids around to hear us talking. It’s also a great time to be reminding ourselves of these skills, because we tend to find ourselves with a little more downtime in the summer, or at least we hope we’ll find ourselves with a little more downtime.


And Rebecca notes in her writing that this is a great opportunity to practice these communication skills, adding in a family walk after dinner, having a weekly game night, taking advantage of the downtime that comes with weekend tournaments or trips out of town, utilizing those moments to start practicing. Rebecca focuses on the importance of using adaptive communication. It’s a part of the concept she teaches called rich talk, something she created as she was working on developing a framework around the importance of having meaningful conversations with kids. And I so appreciate Rebecca’s focus on connecting back her research, and writings to the neurodiverse community, and she even shares how we can be highlighting the importance of being different for the kids in our lives. There’s lots to dive into today. And with that, let’s get started on episode 83 An ADHD Refresh on the Art of Talking to Children.


Hello, and welcome back to Refocused. I’m your host Lindsay Guentzel, and I’m very excited to dive into today’s topic about inclusion. We all know how important inclusion is, especially for those of us who are neurodivergent, and are especially sensitive to feelings of rejection or not belonging. Whether it’s actually happening or not, I call those the stories that I tell myself that no one wants me around or I am unwelcome. And the unfortunate part is I have very vivid memories of feeling that way as a child. And I think the fact that we even use the word inclusion, and that we understand the meaning behind it, and the importance of the meaning, it’s a great reminder of how far we’ve come as a society in identifying and understanding the actual needs of human beings. And inclusion and cohesion are not only crucial in how we develop as humans, but also how we thrive.


And so, I’m very excited to bring Rebecca Rolland into the conversation. She is a speech pathologist, writer, and Harvard lecturer, and she’s the author of The Art of Talking With Children, which looks at using the interactions you’re having with the kids in your life to build the skills they need to thrive throughout life. And there is a reason why we say, “Start them young.” The Art of Talking With Children also has an entire chapter dedicated to talking about differences in learning, thinking, and attention, which makes it a perfect fit for this podcast. And Rebecca, thank you so much for joining me.

Rebecca Rolland (09:00):

Yes, thanks for having me. This is wonderful.

Lindsay Guentzel (09:02):

So a couple of things I want to get out of the way, right off the bat. One, I keep wanting to say, “Your children,” but a lot of people don’t have children. I don’t have children. Or they have grown children who are out of the house. And I really appreciated the emphasis I found in looking over your website, and looking at the book on the phrase, “Children in your life,” because it’s just as important for me as someone who doesn’t have children but has nephews, and friends with kids. And I volunteer in a school, so it’s a very important thing for me to be learning as well as parents. It’s this big picture.

Rebecca Rolland (09:43):

Definitely. And I think that I see that so much as sometimes we emphasize sort of parenting as really separate from teaching, or caregiving, or being an aunt or something like that. But these are all … We need the same skills, we need the same empathy, we need the same engagement. And so, I do think that this book, and just this approach is so important for anyone who interacts with kids in any way.

Lindsay Guentzel (10:04):

And similarly, I imagine some of the things that you talk about in the book can be takeaways for adults who might need a refresh on their own communication skills and styles.

Rebecca Rolland (10:15):

Exactly. Actually, it’s funny, because so often when I talk about this book and this approach, people have said to me, “Oh, well this actually could work really well with the adults in my life.” And I do definitely see the applications every day.

Lindsay Guentzel (10:27):

So I’m curious how you found yourself here, how your career, and your experiences brought you to write this book, and what the motivation was behind it.

Rebecca Rolland (10:36):

Definitely. Yeah, so I’m a mom of two kids, ages five and 10, as well as a speech pathologist, and a lecturer. And so, for me, I started out being really interested in conversations from more of an academic standpoint, and saying, “Well, teachers, and kids, how do we help the classroom have a good learning environment?” But then when I became a parent, I realized, “Oh, so much of that about children, and learning, and teaching could be applied to parenting, and to taking care of kids, but nobody’s talking about this.” So, I realized in the parenting world, and the parenting literature, there just was no information about what kind of conversations are we having with kids? It was about discipline, about diapering, about all the new things you need for babies. There’s so little about, “Well, what can we do to actually help children thrive based on how we talk with them?” So, that’s where I found myself really wondering, and I went on this journey to figure that out.

Lindsay Guentzel (11:32):

It’s very interesting. We’re very early in our conversation, and I’m already having these light bulb moments. Because I love the phrase, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and I have always viewed speech pathology as helping someone speak better. I didn’t realize that there was a level to it of how we speak, or the tones we use, or the topics we use. And so, I just would love it if you could explain a little bit of the depth behind those two words, because your career is obviously a lot more in depth than I had any idea. But again, going back to my favorite phrase, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Rebecca Rolland (12:09):

Definitely. It’s so funny because so many people when they meet me or other speech pathologists, they say, “Oh, you must work with kids who can’t say they’re R’s,” or, “You must work with kids who aren’t talking yet.” And I actually don’t work with kids of either of those issues, although I have in my training. Because speech pathology is actually a hugely diverse field. So, you might find a speech pathologist, for example, working with someone who has aphasia, if they’ve had a rock climbing incident, and they have some brain injury. For me, I work with a lot of what we talk about social pragmatics of language, which means the way we use language socially. So, that’s sort of staying on topic. It’s how do you enter a conversation? How do you manage when someone feels rejected? What do you do? How do you actually signal that you want to leave a conversation? All of those small social issues are also what we talk about in speech pathology, and what a lot of kids have struggles with. So, there’s just so much more to the field than what we think about typical speech in terms of coming out with words.

Lindsay Guentzel (13:09):

In the book, you use the phrase, rich talk, and I’m wondering if you can start before we dive too far into it, explaining what that is, and what that term means as you were developing the book.

Rebecca Rolland (13:22):

Yeah. So, rich talk is the frame I’ve used when we ask the question, “How can we have meaningful conversations with kids?” So for me, rich talk was the answer I came up with, and it has three components, so, A, B, C. A stands for adaptive, meaning you’re going with the mood or the flow of your child, their temperament, where they like to talk, when they like to talk. B is back and forth, meaning you’re focusing on how much you’re talking, how much your child is talking, and emphasizing not just lecturing at them. And C is for child driven, meaning you’re really starting with what interests, or motivates, or worries a child.

Lindsay Guentzel (13:59):

I’m wondering if there is a specific age that this starts at or is this something that people should implement as soon as possible when it comes to how they’re communicating with children?

Rebecca Rolland (14:13):

Yes, really the great thing about this approach is that you can do it at any age, and I think as soon as you can, as soon as you’re aware of this, I would really emphasize that you can try it out. What’s so interesting, I think, is that you can adapt to a child, and to a child’s communication needs at any age. And what I would encourage parents to do, or caregivers, or anyone to do as a start is really just kind of take a day, and reflect a couple times a day. What’s going well in your interactions with your child or with a child in your life? When is your child opening up? When do you feel like things are flowing? What are your strengths as a speaker and listener? What are your child’s strengths? And when you start by focusing on what’s going well, you can start to build those areas up, and you can start to see, “Well, it’s actually … ” Even if you think, “Oh, my conversations with my kids aren’t great,” you can see that there are areas where it’s probably working really well for you already, and you can start to build those up.

Lindsay Guentzel (15:10):

And I imagine that there’s a lot of self-reflection that comes from the adult trying to figure out, like you mentioned, “What are your strengths? How do you communicate the best? What time of day are you at your best?” All of those things do play a role, and then you throw life into the mix. And we get frustrated, people get angry, and a lot of times … We have a phrase in our house, “My tone is not indicative of the way I feel,” and it’s kind of like you just respond so quickly. And I know from my own experience growing up, I was very guarded because I didn’t want bad tones. I didn’t want bad reactions. And so, if I ever got that from anyone, any adult in life, it’s when I shut down. So, what can adults be doing to create that safe environment, and to make sure that the children in their life know that this is a safe space, and even though the way I respond, my tone is not indicative of the way I feel about you?

Rebecca Rolland (16:09):

Definitely, yes. So, there’s a few key things. The first is just to notice what triggers you as an adult. So what, from your environment, do you feel like, “Oh, this is when I get really upset. This is when I really feel like I can’t take it?” And usually, that has less to do with the child, and more to do with you and your background. So, it might be, for example, that when your child starts whining, that’s when you really can’t take it. Or maybe it’s when your child says they’re disappointed. And for you, that’s really triggering, because in your family you weren’t allowed to be disappointed. So, just noticing what triggers you as a parent or as a caregiver is the first step.


And then, I think secondly, it’s really all about taking the time to make small shifts in that whatever happens. So, even to say, “I’m going to just, instead of my instinctual reaction, which was just to lash out or to yell, I’m going to stop for one second. I’m going to take a deep breath. I’m going to think through, for example, how could I teach this child something in this moment? What is my child or this child showing me that they don’t know yet?” and flipping the situation. So, rather than just thinking, “Oh, he’s doing it to annoy me,” what are they showing me that they don’t know yet? Asking that question can really change the communication. So, just trying that out once or twice, I think, can be a great start.

Lindsay Guentzel (17:26):

I love that phrase, trying to figure out what they don’t know yet, because I think that is something that is so instrumental, especially with children who have ADHD or autism, and just have no idea that what they’re doing, or the way that they’re behaving, or it’s such a crucial time for kids to learn how to communicate, learn how to make mistakes, learn how relationships work. And so, I’m curious, when we look at this time in children’s lives when they’re learning how to communicate, especially with adults, how instrumental is it for their growth and their futures down the line?

Rebecca Rolland (18:06):

Yeah, it’s really key. I think what’s so amazing about the conversations we have is that we can’t see it. But actually, they accumulate on a daily basis to build trust, and even to build children’s skills, so things like kindness, confidence, and creativity. So, in the book, I talk about a double promise, which is just these conversations matter in the moment, and they also matter over time. So, even though we don’t actually see them forming children into creative and confident people, that’s actually their potential. So, that’s why even if you feel like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m having this impact. I don’t know if this is important,” knowing that helping establish this safe environment, helping children feel like they can trust you has so many benefits over time.

Lindsay Guentzel (18:48):

And I imagine that the benefits go both ways, that adults who take on this idea of rich talk, and changing the relationship between them, and the children in their life, it goes both ways.

Rebecca Rolland (19:00):

Exactly. When children feel like they’re safe, and they’re able to communicate, it’s actually so much more interesting to be with them. I think that’s one thing that we often miss. So, they actually are able to express themselves. They’re able to question more. And for me, I found that my own kids ask so many more interesting and in-depth questions when they feel like they’re in a place where they can do that safely.

Lindsay Guentzel (19:21):

So, let’s talk about the conversations parents should be having with their children as they’re in the midst of this new routine. And it can be really overwhelming. And at the same time, they have new adults in their lives. And so, this is really probably a crucial time for parents to be setting a standard of expectation.

Rebecca Rolland (19:40):

Definitely, yeah. So, I think especially the fact of knowing there’s new routines, knowing there’s new expectations. Being proactive about that is key, especially for kids who are neurodivergent. We can sometimes slip into habits that we don’t like or that kids don’t like, and then it’s a real struggle to figure out how to undo those. So, if you could have these conversations upfront, and actually develop these routines explicitly, and especially help kids buy into them, and actually create them in part, you’re going a long way to being proactive, and helping them have a good start to the year.

Lindsay Guentzel (20:13):

One thing that I, as an adult, have come to terms with is that I wish I had been nicer as a child. I wish I had been more inclusive. Again, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know the ramifications of your actions. And the unfortunate reality is that probably almost all of us are the villain in someone’s story, whether we know about it or not. But there are conversations parents should be having with their children as they’re going back to school about inclusivity. And there’s a chapter in your book that talks about that. And for a lot of people, like myself, who have ADHD, it’s not necessarily something that is so loud and out there that people would know, “Oh, make an extra effort with Lindsay. She needs to know that she’s a part of the group or things like that.” And so, those conversations start at home, and the examples start at home.

Rebecca Rolland (21:05):

Definitely, yes. And I think it’s so important. I think kids with ADHD, and even those without ADHD really need to understand not just how to understand learning differences, but how to celebrate them, and really how to say, “It’s actually a benefit to us as a classroom, as a family, as a community that we have differences.” So, I really talk about learning, for example, like a kaleidoscope. There’s so many different patterns. When you turn the kaleidoscope, there’s all these different ways to look at it, and all of those have value and interest. So, if the kaleidoscope never changed, and it was always the same, it would be very boring to look at. So, I talk about learning and thinking differences almost in that way because it really helps us see there’s beauty to the fact that we all approach these things differently.

Lindsay Guentzel (21:48):

And is there a way parents, and adults should be starting these conversations? Is it best to just have it come up naturally? Is it something that you start setting a certain time every day? I imagine it’s obviously different for each family, but how do you start getting into the routine of having these conversations, and making sure that little Joey is actually listening to you, and not playing a video game or something like that? Because I mean, I’m terrible at checking my phone during a very important conversation, and missing a lot of details.

Rebecca Rolland (22:21):

For sure, yes. And I think one way to do this is to set up routines, and rituals that work for you, not so you’re having a chance to lecture at your child, but so you’re really able to ask each other and answer questions that allow you to have these conversations. So, one of those, for example, that I found helpful is to talk about mistakes. So, in my house for some time, we would all talk at dinner about one thing we did that we felt was a mistake, why it might have happened, and then what we could do next time to possibly avoid it. And we took a really humorous approach.


So, it was even things like one time my husband pushed the up button instead of the down button on the elevator, so he had to go up 20 floors, and then had to wait all the way down to get back down. And so this kind of thing shows, I think it helps kids connect with us realizing that, “Okay, we’re all making these mistakes.” Sometimes they’re big, and serious, but sometimes they’re not. We can take a chance to laugh at ourselves, and to recognize, “Okay, we can do something positive to help in the future.” I think especially for learning differences, also talking about, “What’s something that was hard for me to learn today? What was something that was easy for me to learn today?” And for all of us to do this, and to analyze ourselves as people and learners really can make us seem more humble for our children, and help us have these conversations more easily.

Lindsay Guentzel (23:36):

I love that you mentioned the mistakes. Because I know one thing for me, even now, even knowing about my ADHD, owning mistakes. I’m owning it in my head over and over again all day. But I go back to things, especially with my mom now, I’m very open. I own everything I did as a kid, good, bad, and ugly. And she’s like, “How did you not tell me that? And I was like, that was a part of the ADHD.” It was all just sitting inside. And so, I love the emphasis you’re putting on … It’s kind of like taking the curtain back, and revealing the man behind it. We’re humans. Parents make mistakes.

Rebecca Rolland (24:14):

Exactly. We’re also messy, exactly.

Lindsay Guentzel (24:14):

Yeah, yeah, something they’ll learn as they become an adult. But also, it’s great to acknowledge mistakes happen, and we can learn from them. And also, this is a safe space for you to share some of those things.

Rebecca Rolland (24:25):

Exactly. And I think also to take an optimistic perspective of, “Okay, it happened. We all see it. We’re all able to witness that, but we can also help strategize, and help each other strategize for the next time.” So, not as to say, “You’re not alone with your mistake. We’re going to help. You can even maybe help me once in a while to offer some suggestions. How do I fix my mistake?” I do think having that more open conversation sets a nice tone.

Lindsay Guentzel (24:48):

You’ve touched on this a little bit, but I would love it if you could dive into how rich talk in your own house with your own children … how it then then … the trickle down effect. So, do children then start communicating differently with other children in class with other adults? How does it kind of get passed along?

Rebecca Rolland (25:08):

Yeah, I think that’s a really great question, and I can even tell you a story of recently something that happened in my house, which is just that my daughter and I, we would always often plan fun things for each other, leave each other notes, and have this kind of communication where we felt like, okay, if one of us feels down, write a note saying like, “Oh, I hope you feel better.” And recently, my son is actually starting school late, just because his school starts later. My daughter’s school starts earlier, and he was feeling very down about it because he wanted to start school, too. So, he has this week where there’s not much going on. And so, my daughter and I were talking about this, and they’re five years apart. So, he’s only five, and she’s 10. And she said, “Oh, I do think he’s having a hard time. He seems like he’s acting out a little.” And I was like, “Yeah, well, I think he’s feeling really sad that he doesn’t get to go to school yet. His school isn’t starting.”


And we started thinking about, “I wonder how we could make him feel better.” And she had this idea from something she had watched on TV. And she thought, “Oh, I wonder if I made him a funny bag every morning, like art day for Monday, Science Day for Tuesday, and I could make a video for him.” And so, she’s actually doing that this week where every day … Today’s Art Day. And so, she put in some silly string, and chalk, and other things in a bag. And the night before she actually made him a video on her cell phone. It’s like, “Hi, tomorrow’s Art Day, and you’re going to get to put silly string on your dad,” and things like that. And he is so funny. And he’s just has watched it over and over. And it’s really brought a joy to his day. And I think because she’s in a good place, and she has school, and because we’ve had a lot of these talks about empathy, not necessarily always using that word, but she’s feeling like, “Okay, I can extend this to my brother too,” which has been really fun to see.

Lindsay Guentzel (26:52):

Oh gosh, that just warms my heart. And I think it’s just so wonderful to be nurturing that. I bet as a parent there’s nothing better than having a teacher or another adult say, “Your child is very nice, and they think of others.” And it’s like, “Yes, that’s what we need.”

Rebecca Rolland (27:08):

And I definitely would add that my children are not … certainly being five years apart, that’s not something that happens a hundred percent of the time. So, I do note that, ’cause that was a bright moment. But it’s definitely … We face the same things as most other families, I’m sure with that back and forth, and figuring out how to manage conflict, and the squabbling, and things like that. So, I’d say it’s always a process.

Lindsay Guentzel (27:31):

I love that we’re having this conversation. I actually coach for a nonprofit that works with girls in the ages of third through fifth grade. And last season was … The spring was my first season, and it’s 40 young girls, and a bunch of adults. And everyone last season was a parent except for me. And there was one afternoon where I was running with the young girl, and we’re running, and we’re talking. And she turns, and looks at me. And she goes, “So, whose kid is yours?” And I was like, “Oh, I don’t have a kid.” And she was like, “Then why are you here?” And I was like, “I don’t know how to explain. I wanted to be involved.” It’s that awkward question, “Well, why did you want to volunteer?” And you’re like, “Because I’m a good person, I don’t know.”

Rebecca Rolland (28:12):

Yeah, right, yeah.

Lindsay Guentzel (28:15):

It has felt like a really great opportunity for me to make sure that some of the things that I know I struggled with as a younger person, that I can help break some of that. And so, I think going in confidently, and just realizing it’s not … One, I’m not going to connect with every girl on the team. That’s just not how it’s going to work. But it’s not as speaking a different language as I think some people might think it is. I love when adults are like, “Oh, I’m just not good with kids.” And I was like, “What does that mean?”

Rebecca Rolland (28:48):

Yes, yes. And I think that so much of it is the sense that we need to be a certain kind of person for our kids. And I think what’s so important to realize is that kids really want us to be more of ourselves often. So, really just letting a child know, “How are you doing today?” If you’re not doing great, let the child know that. This is within reason, obviously. But yeah, to really be yourself, and to rely on your actual strengths, and your curiosities, I think is so important.

Lindsay Guentzel (29:12):

What else should we be talking about, not just with back to school, but as the school year’s going on, and as children are getting older, and changing the way we handle things? How are parents constantly evolving to match what their child needs, especially when it comes to communication?

Rebecca Rolland (29:32):

Yes, I think that’s a great question, especially these days. I would say when kids are often going back to school after maybe being partly online, et cetera. And there’s a lot of challenges, I would say, especially around technology. I’ve seen a lot of concerns about, “Well, how much can I use screens? How much are we battling about that?” And one thing I think about, especially is this idea of the A being adaptive. Especially when we talk about screen time, I think it’s so important to adapt, and realize that all screen time, for example, isn’t created equal. So, I really try to emphasize, “Let’s focus less on is my child on a screen or not on a screen,” and more on, “Well, what are they doing there? Is it active? Are they engaging with people? Are they able to be creative? And how can I help them be more creative, and active in their screen time use?” So kind of evolving from a perspective of, “Black and white, bad or good, screens or none,” and thinking about, “Well, let’s move with what’s engaging and interesting to my child?” and helping them get there.

Lindsay Guentzel (30:31):

I’m wondering how you address new adults in a child’s life. How do you have those conversations with your child about communicating at home in a safe space? But obviously you’re going to go somewhere, and there’s a difference between falling in line with how we speak to one another at home, and being very open, and honest, and they might find themselves someplace where they don’t feel comfortable.

Rebecca Rolland (30:55):

Definitely, yes. And I think having those conversations can start at home, and really create the foundation. And actually, when you talk about conversations explicitly, you’re setting that foundation. What are the things we do at home? What are the ways we talk at home? Let’s talk about how that’s different from the ways things are happening at school. Let’s talk about … Is it a question of, say, “Your teacher, is she strict or is she just more emphasizing cleanliness? Do you feel like it’s a mean thing, or do you feel like she has a different tone than I do?” for example. So, actually trying to understand with your child, what are the differences in the cultures of each place can really go a long way to helping your child feel comfortable in both of the places.

Lindsay Guentzel (31:38):

And I know you touched on, “It’s important for the parents to know when they’re at their best, and when they’re connecting with their child.” And that’s probably going to change every single day. It’s the outdated trope. Kids come from home from school, and mom’s waiting there. And she’s like, “How was your day?” And the kids just grumble, and move on. And it’s like, yeah, they did that. That was actually a thing. And I think especially for people who are neurodivergent, you don’t think about the overstimulation. And kids don’t know that they need to say, “I need 10 minutes. I need to not be talked at, or asked things of, and all of those things.” And so, it’s just so important to be present and keep trying.

Rebecca Rolland (32:21):

Yeah, yeah. And I definitely think that space is so important. So, especially for kids who are neurodivergent to recognize that we, as adults, often want … We get home. We immediately want answers. How was the day? What happened? Who were you with? What was the most fun? And we’re doing that with the best of intentions. We want to connect. But sometimes those conversations, and those questions feel just more probing than your child can handle at that moment. So, sometimes I do actually think about, “Well let everyone settle in. Let everyone do what is the comforting thing for them to do when they get home.” Maybe it’s making a snack, maybe it’s turning on some music, maybe it’s taking a five minute walk. Whatever it is to settle in from the day can often set such a different foundation for having a conversation, and not feeling like, “Oh, we have to get all those answers immediately.” And sometimes often I’ve seen that kids want to talk about something that feels really random at the end of the day. They’ll say like, “Oh, I had peanut butter with cheese,” or something like that, completely random. And just to let them do that, and that can often lead to some of the, “Answers,” that we want.

Lindsay Guentzel (33:28):

Rebecca Rolland is my guest today. We’re talking about The Art of Talking With Children. It’s her book that basically helps set up adults to have better conversations, and then better relationships with the children in their lives. And I know that it has been reprinted in different languages. And so, I’m curious how what you’re talking about with rich talk, how it can cross over into different cultures. Because obviously, how we communicate in different cultures is different, but the art of communication is still very much the same.

Rebecca Rolland (34:00):

Definitely, yes. And so, I think that’s what I love about talking with people from all over the world is that I do see these differences in communication, and we can validate them as being so important to recognize, “Well, what are your strengths within your own community?” And that’s why I love this a ABC framework. Because the A for adaptive really does allow you to tailor it to your family culture, your classroom culture, your national culture. We don’t do that in this culture. And I definitely emphasize in my book to be humble, and recognize that I don’t ever present strategies that, for example, everyone should do it this way. Because I recognize that in some families, in some cultures that would seem odd, that would seem inappropriate, that would seem frustrating, et cetera. And so, I think it’s so important to take what I’m suggesting, and what other people suggest, and tailor it to what actually seems to fit within your lives.


I’ve talked to some really interesting researchers from Australia especially who focused on what they call emotional reminiscing. So, really talking about painful experiences in a way that helps kids process them. And that’s something that there’s research in the US too, but something they’ve really developed over there especially. And it’s shown to be actually so helpful for children’s mental health, for their wellbeing, and so on. If you can actually rehearse and talk over things that happened that didn’t go well in a child’s life, and help them realize that the strengths that they had. So, for me, that was really cool to feel like, “Oh, even things like your child got really scared of the doctor.” When you actually talk about that, and you’re open with that, that can be something that’s so powerful as a learning experience for your child.

Lindsay Guentzel (35:37):

So, where should parents or adults begin? If they listen to this, they get the book, and they start to implement some of the rich talk into their own lives, is there a perfect starting point?

Rebecca Rolland (35:49):

Yeah, so I would say really just almost seeing it as an experiment. Try just a couple of times, take five minutes a day, maybe twice a day, and see if you can try out some of the strategies that I mentioned in the book. Try some of the conversation starters, see what happens, and actually ask your child, “What did you like about that or what did you not like about that?” And use it as a jumping off point. See if anything changes in your dynamics after the fact, maybe immediately after the fact or even in the day afterwards. And just notice. Oftentimes, I’ve found that parents tell me when they start these kind of conversation starters or they start these kind of openers, kids actually ask for them afterwards. So, there’s actually kind of starting a routine that kids are really engaged by. So, you don’t necessarily have to feel like, “Oh, I’m going to do this every day.” Just try jumpstarting it, and seeing what happens.

Lindsay Guentzel (36:38):

I’m wondering, and this, I guess, would be more for the adults who have children in their life or parents who live separately, how technology plays a role in that. Because it’s not just phone calls any longer. We have Zoom, and we have FaceTime, and it’s much more interactive. But it can be different for people, and there’s obviously the different age demographics. And so, how should someone take tech into consideration when building those relationships?

Rebecca Rolland (37:09):

Yes. Well, a lot of the research does show that tech can actually be useful and helpful, especially if kids already have existing in-person relationships so, really, tech is just magnifying whatever’s happening in person. So, if your relationship with your child is already positive, and warm, and you also have a tech component, because you have to go away or you can’t be there all the time, that can be a really helpful addition. So, I don’t think virtual relationships can replace in-person relationships. There’s a lot to actually being in-person, and this embodied sense where you can actually physically be with someone. But if that’s not always possible, then yes, definitely technology is the next best thing, and is much better than nothing oftentimes. So, I really do emphasize using technology to our benefit when we can.

Lindsay Guentzel (37:55):

And I don’t want to push you to jump ahead by any means of imagination, but when you look at what you’ve discovered already, and what you’re sharing, what comes next?

Rebecca Rolland (38:06):

That’s a great question. Sorry, I have a couple of ideas that I’m working on, and actually one of them is something for kids, a book for kids, thinking about how they can have these kind of conversations with parents, and with adults, and so flipping it on its head. That’s something I’m really interested in is how to help kids directly, writing a book for them.

Lindsay Guentzel (38:24):

That’s awesome. Well, Rebecca, it was such a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

Rebecca Rolland (38:30):

Oh, thank you. I appreciate you having me.

Lindsay Guentzel (38:38):

Rebecca Rolland is a speech pathologist, writer, and Harvard lecturer, as well as a mom. And like always, we’ve shared all of the links for you to connect with Rebecca in our show notes, including how to find her book, The Art of Talking to Children. I’m also sharing the link to a recent article Rebecca wrote for Psychology Today, The Surprising Thing Kids Need to Become Strong Readers. In it, Rebecca highlights the connection between back and forth conversations, and reading skills, and how adults can be boosting a child’s reading skills by helping them tie back the words they see on a page to an experience. And one of the most effective ways to do that is through conversation, using adaptive communication. And just to look back at that really quick, this is a part of embracing rich talk, using what Rebecca refers to as the ABCs to guide and support the conversations you are having with the kids in your life.


That means A, adaptive. You, the adult, adjust to the energy of the child you’re communicating with. B, back and forth highlighting the importance of balanced communication. You realize how much you are talking versus how much the child’s talking. And C, child driven. You’ve put in an effort to focus on what interests or motivates the child. Because as we all know, we’re more likely to engage in a conversation we’re connected to than one that has nothing to do with us. Again, I can’t recommend Rebecca’s book enough. And if you have kids who are starting to read or who are maybe having a difficult time getting interested in reading, make sure to check out her article for Psychology Today, The Surprising Thing Kids Need to Become Strong Readers, and you can find that link in our show notes.


A huge thanks to my team, who is helping make this podcast bigger and better every single day. Managing Editor, Sarah Platanitis, who leads our research and development, Coordinating Producer, Phil Rodemann, who oversees production and editing, and Al Chaplin, who is our go-to for all things social media. Support for Refocused comes from ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental healthcare company that provides affordable, and accessible ADHD assessments, and treatment plans, including medication management, and teletherapy. To find out how they can help you on your journey, head to ADHDOnline.com. Thank you all so much for listening this week. I hope you just have a wonderful start to June, and we’ll see you back here soon.

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